Thursday 12 December 2019

O'Donoghue rains on Rebels' parade

Kerry 0-24 Cork 0-12 (Munster SFC Final)

Johnny Buckley, Kerry, races clear of James Loughrey, Cork
Johnny Buckley, Kerry, races clear of James Loughrey, Cork
Kerry captain Fionn Fitzgerald avoids a challenge by Daniel Goulding, Cork
Kerry goalkeeper Brian Kelly makes a save from Colm O'Neill, Cork, and Marc O Se, Kerry, during the second half
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

There was a spell in the second half of this clash when chastened Cork supporters surely felt like putting their hands over their heads to obscure their line of vision every time James O'Donoghue stepped out in front of a red shirt and had the ball put up to him on a silver platter.

It became such a repetitive feature at one stage that it became difficult to distinguish one O'Donoghue point from another as he rained them over from a variety of angles off left and right.

You could almost detect a smile on the young man's face as he repeatedly darted in front of any of the three markers who had the misfortune to be tracking him, gathered possession and turned in the knowledge those in red were terrorised by what was coming.

The space he had each time was astonishing. He ended up with 10 points and it could easily have been 13 on an afternoon when Kerry recorded their biggest ever Pairc Ui Chaoimh championship win over Cork, surpassing the 10-point margins of 1980 and '92 on their way to a 76th Munster title.

CONCERN

That it was the final football championship game in the old Pairc before the bulldozers move in will make it an even more bitter pill for Cork to swallow. But the Rebels' more pressing concern is how they set about resurrecting their season after this.

If there were trending words being uttered by their supporters among the 21,028 crowd in the 10 minutes after, 'embarrassing' and 'humiliating' were sure to be featuring prominently. They were the instant sentiments du jour for a stunned home contingent.

They didn't win a single individual battle over the entire game. A 12-point defeat actually flattered them somewhat as a little more composure from a Kerry attack giddy at the thought of having so much space around them could have pushed it up to 15 or 16.

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Manager Brian Cuthbert was as shellshocked as anyone at how easily his team were pulled apart and how little fluency they could engineer.

They scored the first two points and picked off five in succession either side of half-time to cut a 10-point deficit (0-13 to 0-3) in half but apart from those flourishes they found themselves in the eye of a vicious storm.

For Kerry, it was a performance no one, outside the camp certainly, could honestly say they saw coming. In fact, there were Kingdom supporters openly speaking of damage limitation measures being required to ensure the rest of the season could retain some shape.

In that context and the context of who they were missing and how they had played in their last two competitive games against Clare two weeks earlier and Cork in the league, this must be considered among the best performances by any Kerry team in the Munster championship.

Not since 1970, when games were played over 80 minutes and they racked up 2-24, have they scored as many times against Cork in the championship. All that was missing was a goal. Given the porous nature of the Cork defence, that truly was a wonder.

O'Donoghue's contribution was only one element to how they went about their business. They scored 19 points in all from play, with Johnny Buckley, selected at midfield but operating at left half-forward, picking off four, mostly from distance.

Buckley's return was just one of many calls manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice got right. Matching Shane Enright with Brian Hurley was another. Hurley had spun over seven points from play in the league match which Cork had won so easily, but Enright won their first contest here and didn't look back. It wasn't until the 69th minute that Hurley pointed from play.

Declan O'Sullivan's siting at centre-forward was another hugely productive move and, for a long time, he was Kerry's most influential player until O'Donoghue's relentless showing for the ball elevated him above anyone else.

His work rate was reflected in one memorable stretch in the second half to intercept a Mark Collins ball destined for Colm O'Driscoll. From a man already with seven Munster medals, to his credit he sent a message to his colleagues and, indeed, his opponents.

Kerry ruled the middle third with an iron fist and, at one stage in the second quarter, claimed six successive Cork kick-outs during a sustained spell that saw them move from 0-3 to 0-2 behind after six minutes to 0-13 to 0-3 clear on 34 minutes, an unbroken run of 11 successive points.

The quality of the kick-passing into the inside Kerry forwards was exceptional. Anthony Maher, a towering figure, delivered a couple with precision, Killian Young lofted one off his less favoured right into O'Donoghue's path for a point, while Stephen O'Brien, a troubling presence on the right, got in on the act with a neat assist for Paul Geaney.

For Eoin Cadogan on Geaney and Michael Shields on O'Donoghue in particular, it was a torrid afternoon, but the lack of protection is a criticism Cuthbert can expect to face in the coming days. Safety in numbers was surely a preferred option in the circumstances to restore stability.

Physically, Kerry punched well above their weight too. Fionn Fitzgerald was able to get in to rip a ball away from Aidan Walsh for Kerry's seventh point through Buckley, while Buckley memorably barged Cadogan out of his way to fire another over in the second half. These were battles Cork would not have expected to lose and they have to question why.

Shields was eventually relieved of O'Donoghue duties in the second half, but Noel Galvin struggled even more before James Loughrey offered the final resistance. It's worth recalling Cork deployed Paddy Kelly and John O'Rourke as half-backs only two weeks earlier against Tipperary, which suggests a dearth of natural defenders around the squad.

Cork reached the interval just eight points down, 0-13 to 0-5, and cut it to five within four minutes of the restart through a clutch of placed balls from Daniel Goulding (two) and Hurley.

The memory of the 13-point second-half swing after Michael Cussen's introduction in the 2008 final and even last year's second half slide in Killarney would have come flooding back to Kerry but this time they kicked on impressively.

Over the next 20 minutes, they outscored Cork by 0-11 to 0-2 against the wind with much enterprising play, backed up by the introduction of Darran O'Sullivan. For Cuthbert, there were sobering thoughts in reflection.

"The biggest disappointment to me was that there seemed to be such a big gulf between the two teams. I know it was only the league, but we looked fairly dominant against Kerry (in Tralee)," he said.

"Within 13 weeks, they are coming back and they did that to us. We have to examine everything we've done the last 13 weeks. Everything is on the table for review. That's two bad performances in a row, Tipperary and now again."

Fitzmaurice has been championing the potential of these players for some time, so this was firm justification. Praise for O'Donoghue, who had a shoulder injury in the build-up, was forthcoming.

"He's probably a bit of a freak of nature in that there are not too many fellas that can be out for a couple of weeks with an injury and come in as sharp as he does," Fitzmaurice said.

Kerry seem able to produce that type of player though.

Scorers – Kerry: J O'Donoghue 0-10 (2fs), J Buckley, B Sheehan (2fs, 1 '45') 0-4 each, P Geaney 0-3, S O'Brien, D Walsh, Declan O'Sullivan 0-1 each. Cork: D Goulding 0-6 (3fs, 1 '45'), B Hurley 0-3 (2fs), A Walsh, F Goold, D Cahalane 0-1 each.

Kerry – B Kelly 8; S Enright 8, P Murphy 7, M Ó Sé 7; A O'Mahony 6, K Young 7, F Fitzgerald 7; A Maher 8, B Sheehan 8; D Walsh 7, Declan O'Sullivan 9, J Buckley 9; J O'Donoghue 9, P Geaney 8, S O'Brien 8. Subs: P Crowley 6 for O'Mahony (48), Darran O'Sullivan 7 for O'Brien (52), D Moran 7 for Sheehan (55), K O'Leary for O'Rourke (62), BJ Keane for Geaney (62), K Donaghy for Buckley (65).

Cork – K O'Halloran 7; N Galvin 5, E Cadogan 5, M Shields 5; D Cahalane 5, Thomas Clancy (Clonakilty) 5, J Loughrey 6; A Walsh 6, F Goold 5; B O'Driscoll 5, P Kerrigan 6, J O'Rourke 5; D Goulding 7, P Kelly 5, B Hurley 5. Subs: C O'Neill 5 for Kelly (h-t), C O'Driscoll 5 for O'Rourke (h-t), M Collins 6 for Barry O'Driscoll (45), J O'Sullivan 5 for Clancy (50), J Hayes for Walsh (56), Tomás Clancy (Fermoy) for Galvin (61).

REF – Cormac Reilly (Meath)

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